A group of citizens called the Brown County Committee for Better Business launched a petition drive late Monday afternoon, hoping to generate enough signatures for a November countywide alcohol election.

The petition will allow a vote for the legal sale of all alcoholic beverages including mixed beverages, the committee said in a press release issued Monday. The group is asking voters to support balancing the alcohol sales rules for all of Brown County, the press release states. 

Representatives of businesses who are committee members talked with the media at Humphrey Pete’s Restaurant late Monday afternoon and officially kicked off the petition drive.

According to the press release:

Since Prohibition, Texas allows elections to be held either countywide, in a justice of the peace precinct or in municipal city limits.There are now 10 different versions of legal sales. Since 1941, there have been at least 12 alcohol elections in Brown County and since 1959, seven of the eight elections passed, legalizing five different versions of alcohols sales. Most elections were held in the cities, creating one set of rules for businesses inside the city limits and a different set of rules for businesses in the county, the press release states.  

“This is an economic and fairness issue,” said Steven McCrane, treasurer of the committee. “In 2004, we had an election to create one set of rules for alcohol in Brownwood and our tax base grew more than $2.2 million over the next 10 years. Now we need to support all of our Brown County businesses, with one set of rules for all.”

Brownwood Country Club manager Jimmy Tidwell said state law requires elections either in the city limits, in a justice precinct or throughout the county. “We support passing one set of rules countywide so all businesses now operate under the same rules and regulations,” Tidwell said.

McCrane said the taxpayers will benefit as well. He cited studies by Texas economist Ray Perryman showing that by changing the law, Brown County businesses should be generating nearly $29 million in general sales every year, create more than 280 jobs and generate more than $650,000 in local sales tax revenues annually.

“But we know we are falling short of these amounts because of our crazy and confusing set of laws,” McCrane said.

Conducting elections costs money, group member Jeff Tucker said. “One major benefit of having this election is there will never have to be another alcohol election in Brown County again, saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars,” Tucker said.

In 2008, Perryman issued a report documenting the impact elections to legalize alcohol sales have on a community. The report released findings on the impact of Texas communities based on population. Brown County is a combination of wet, dry and damp.

State law requires the group to gather approximately 2,900 signatures of Brown County voters by July 6. If enough signatures are gathered, the Brown County Commissioners will be required to order the election in November.

Petition officials wearing yellow shirts will be canvassing neighborhood and going door to door to gather signatures. 

Locations where the petitions can be signed are Humphrey Pete’s Restaurant, Brownwood Country Club, Hideout Golf and Resort Club, Wild Duck Marina and others. For a complete list of locations, go to www.Finish.The.Ballot.com

According to the Texas Restaurant Association, businesses that must comply with the bureaucratic red tape and bookkeeping requirements can be forced to spend up to $20,000 annually, the committee’s press release states.

Not all businesses pay the same to operate. Chili’s, in Brownwood, does not have to operate as a private club because voters in 2004 approved mixed beverage sales. But less than 1/2 mile away in Early, Humphrey Pete’s must still operate as a private club to sell the same mixed drinks.

Past elections creating wet status:

• 1965 — Brown County JP 4, all alcohol off-premises

• 1994 — City of Early, beer and wine off-premises

• 2004 — City of Brownwood, beer and wine off-premises and restaurant mixed beverages

• 2016 — City of Blanket, beer and wine off-premises

• 2018 — City of Bangs, beer and wine off-premises